Thomas Jefferson statue to be removed from New York City Hall

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A statue of Thomas Jefferson that stands above the New York City Hall council chamber will be removed after a city committee vote on Monday.

New York City Public Design Commission vote unanimously to move the statue to a public place, yet to be determined, before the end of the year. Efforts to remove the statue of the third president – who owned around 130 slaves when he died in 1826 – were renewed in the national racial calculation that followed the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year.

The original proposal, to move the statue to the New York Historical Society, was changed after testimony at the meeting raised questions about access to the public artwork in a private museum that charges the admission.

New York City Council’s Black, Latino and Asian caucus denounced the delay, saying the commission “voted to prolong the indignity” of Jefferson’s prominent place.

The Public Design Commission and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Asked about the statue Thursday during his daily press briefing, de Blasio said he understands why Jefferson’s story as a slave owner “deeply disturbs people and why they find it to be something that cannot be ignored “.

The 1833 plaster statue is a 7-foot-high replica of a bronze piece by Pierre-Jean David D’Algers, which can be found in the United States Capitol. The plaster replica has been in the council chamber since 1915.

Uriah Philips Levy, the first Jewish Commodore of the Navy, commissioned the bronze statue and its plaster replica to honor Jefferson in part because he fought for religious freedom in the armed forces, the commission said. design in its presentation.

City Council Chairman Corey Johnson led efforts to remove the statue in the summer of 2020 with a letter to de Blasio. Johnson wrote that he and black, Latino and Asian city council members found it “inappropriate.”

“There are disturbing images of division and racism in our city that need to be revisited immediately,” the letter read. “It starts with the town hall.”

Council member Adrienne Adams said she “immediately noticed the Thomas Jefferson statue” after her election, saying it was one of the “most important” statues in the chamber.

“He… likened the very idea of ​​freeing slaves from captivity to abandoning children,” she said, noting that Jefferson fathered children with a teenage slave girl, Sally Hemmings.

Testifying in favor of the removal, board member Inez Barron said the slave owners acted as a sort of “pimp” so that the plantations could be expanded and profits could “be increased”.

She also said Jefferson adopted some of the earliest removal measures against Native Americans, contributing to the “ethnic cleansing and genocidal replacement” of native peoples.

“We are not revisionists. We are not fighting a war on history. We are saying that we want to make sure that the whole story is told, that there are no half-truths and that we do not perpetuate. not the lies, ”Barron said. .

CORRECTION (October 19, 2021, 1:15 a.m.ET): A previous version of this article was in error when New York City Council Chairman Corey Johnson sent a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio regarding the statue. He sent the letter in the summer of 2020, not last summer.


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